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Tuesday, 16 January, 2001, 15:00 GMT
Labour 'will not pledge hunt ban'

The Duke of Beaufort's hounds on Tuesday
A pledge to ban hunting with hounds will not find a place in Labour's next manifesto, regardless of whether the current Bill seeking to outlaw the bloodsport falls before the election.

Prime Minister Tony Blair's official spokesman said there were no plans for such a promise, adding that it had always been the government's intention to give MPs a free vote on the issue.

They are expected to strongly support a total ban on hunting when the Commons votes on the matter on Wednesday.

However, the House of Lords is largely opposed to a ban and the Bill is unlikely to make it into law before the expected spring election.

Parliament Act

This would mean the Bill would have to be re-introduced before the House once Parliament returned after the election.

Tony Blair
Tony Blair is set to back a ban
If it was then defeated in the House of Lords, the government could choose to use the Parliament Act to steamroller it onto the statute books despite the opposition of peers.

Such a move would mean a ban would not come into effect until at least November 2002.

Manifesto pledge

At the 1992 election Labour promised a hunt ban in its manifesto. By 1997 this was watered down to giving MPs a free vote on the issue.

Even then, a proposed ban was only introduced as a private member's bill - which meant that despite overwhelming backing from MPs, it ran out of time.

Ministers came under attack from supporters of a ban for refusing to allow government time to see it through the Commons.

Mr Blair's spokesman said on Tuesday that reports that the party was considering pledging a manifesto ban at the next election were "way off beam".

William Hague
William Hague is believe to prefer self-regulation
Mr Blair is expected to vote with the majority of MPs in favour of a ban on Wednesday.

He has failed to vote on previous occasions when MPs have debated the issue but his spokesman said this week: "If he is here he will vote for a ban. There is nothing to suggest he won't be here."

Three options

MPs are being asked to vote on three options: a total ban, a system of self-regulation and a compulsory licence scheme.

Cabinet ministers Mo Mowlam, John Prescott and Margaret Beckett are expected to line up with the prime minister to vote in favour of a ban.

However, other ministers including Jack Straw, Peter Mandelson and Robin Cook are expected to support the "middle way" of licenses.

Conservative leader William Hague is expected to support self-regulation while shadow home secretary Anne Widdecombe is passionately in favour of a ban.

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy is also believed to support a ban although most of his party are expected to back a licensing plan.

A ban was backed by 373 MPs when they voted on the Bill's second reading in December.

The House of Lords will be asked to choose its preferred option after the Commons vote.

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See also:

15 Jan 01 | UK
Pro-hunt vigil continues
15 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Hunting for victory
21 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Hunting Bill clears Commons hurdle
20 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Protests hit hunting debate
09 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Labour MPs welcome hunting pledge
07 Dec 00 | Talking Politics
Hunting ban may fail
06 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Fresh chance of hunt ban
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